The typical workday does not pose much of a risk of a crisis to the typical worker in America. The workplace is a fairly safe and sanitary place where people congregate to get business done and to earn their paycheck. However, the risk profile might be heightened when a company is putting on a public event or a conference of some kind.
Conferences and other public events are part of the fabric of running a successful business in most parts of the world. Some conferences are meant for the public to showcase the latest products and services offered by a company, while others are meant to help connect with other companies in the same industry to share ideas and collaborate. Whatever the distinct purpose of the conference or public event may be, the most important thing is that organizers be prepared for any type of crisis that could emerge at the event. We want to run through some of the top strategies for how to make this a reality.
Gather Information and Adapt Quickly
A conference could be threatened by any number of outside factors. Natural disasters, threats of violence, a disease outbreak, a news story, or even a bad public relations moment could derail a conference very quickly. Thus, it is important to assess all of the available information constantly and make decisions based on what facts are known at the time.
What is an event organizer supposed to do if their event seems threatened by an outside force of some kind? The answer is that they must do what they can to triage the situation. A few of the following steps may be useful in taking some of the sting out of the unfolding situation:
- Monitor every update in the ongoing situation – Keep tabs on the latest data about the ongoing situation that is causing a problem for the conference. This could take the form of monitoring the latest weather reports (for a natural disaster), checking the social media reaction to something that has happened (for a PR situation), or just checking the latest news headlines to see how the conference might be impacted
- Gather together a team of pre-selected decision-makers – A group of people should be selected ahead of time who will make the tough calls about which parts of the conference will go on (if any) during a crisis. These individuals should put their minds together as the crisis is unfolding to put forth the most collaborative and clear response possible.
- Speak with all relevant stakeholders in the event to let them know what the plan is – Once a decision has been made, it must be communicated to everyone that has a stake in the event going forward. The attendees will need to be notified at some point of course, but not until other entities such as the vendors and suppliers are informed of the changes.
It is never easy to decide to cancel or suspend even a single part of a planned conference, but it is sometimes necessary. People who are given the power to make these calls need to do so only after having considered all of the alternatives. However, if they feel that they are unable to keep people safe when attending the event, then the right call is to cancel.
Understand the Risk of Cancellation
There are a lot of reasons why event planners do not choose to cancel planned events on a whim. There are a lot of risks that are faced when canceling a particular event, and the danger that cancellation poses is something that most event planners do not want to struggle with. Cvent.com runs down just a few of the risks that run through the minds of those who have to make these critical decisions:
Once you understand the crisis and have your list of events, you can conduct a risk assessment for each of them. Run reports based on event location, attendee location, and travel itineraries (including flight connection information) to understand how many attendees are impacted. You also want to ask yourself key questions. What are the risks of hosting your event? Do you know what’s in your event cancellation clause with vendors? Do you have event insurance? What does your insurance actually cover? What is covered by your force majeure clause?
The choices that are made to cancel or not always come down to which option seems less risky for the company and those that they serve. It is fairly easy to quantify the monetary risks to the company if they decide to cancel, but it might not be as easy to tell what might happen if they proceed. Projections must be made about the overall risks of proceeding compared to those of canceling. This is why level-headed and rational individuals must be put in charge of these calls. Those who overestimate or underestimate the risks of proceeding with an event can cause a company to suffer maximal losses no matter what decision they make.
Don’t Forget the Virtual Option
There is a third way that people often choose these days, and that is to hold the event virtually. In 2020, with the threat of COVID-19 everywhere, the number of events that were held virtually doubled from the year before! Event planners of all types were eager to go forward with as many events as they could, but they knew that in-person options were simply too risky. In some cases, in-person events were not allowed at all at least for some time in certain jurisdictions. Thus, risk assessments were made, and the number of virtual events soared.
Deciding to host a virtual event rather than cancel an event entirely is a great way to take away the risks of holding the event in-person while also avoiding the danger of canceling it altogether. A company might still lose some money if they have pre-booked certain vendors and suppliers, but it is a lot better than the massive losses they could take if they had to scrap the event altogether. As such, it is important to remember that the virtual option is always there for those seeking another way to do what they need to do.
If you would like more information about incorporating crisis management planning into your plans for an upcoming event or conference, learn more about our approach to Crisis Management in our Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management and then contact us for the latest about how companies are doing this today.